Ebola not an international ‘health emergency’ but risks spreading across DR Congo border, warns UN health agency

World Bank/Vincent Tremeau Health workers put their Personal Protective Equipment on before entering the zone where people suspected of having Ebola are held in quarantine to be monitored and treated at the Ebola Transition Centre, January 2019.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) “does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern”, according to a statement issued on Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

But acknowledging the potential risk that the disease may spread to neighbouring countries, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, expressed on behalf of the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee, “deep concern” over a recent surge in the transmission of the virus in specific areas, namely North Kivu and Ituri provinces, both of which are heavily populated by armed groups.

Latest data indicates a total of 1,206 confirmed and probable cases of Ebola in this latest deadly outbreak in DRC which began last August, while 764 people have died up to last Wednesday, making the oubreak – which is endemic in the DRC – the worst in the country’s history. The numbers spiked this week, with 20 new cases on Wednesday alone.

Up to the end of March, more than 320 patients had recovered and been discharged from treatment centres, according to the Government’s health ministry.

Because there is a very high risk of regional spread, the Committee said that neighbouring countries should continue to accelerate preparedness and surveillance, including vaccinating healthcare and front-line workers in surrounding countries.

The Emergency Committee recommended that cross-border collaboration be strengthened, including through the timely sharing of Ebola data and alerts; community engagement, and awareness raising.

Moreover, work should be done to better map population movements and understand the community networks which bridge national boundaries. The Committee maintained its previous advice that no international travel or trade restrictions should be applied.

While exit screening, including at airports, ports, and land crossings, is of great importance, entry screening is not considered beneficia, said the committee, appealing for more financial support, to strengthen efforts in both preparedness and response.

The Committee commended efforts of the Government, WHO and other partners in containing the outbreak “in a complex and difficult setting” and advised the WHO Director-General “to continue to monitor the situation closely and reconvene the Emergency Committee as needed”.

 

Emergency Committee for Ebola Virus Disease in the DRC advises:

  • Redoubling efforts to detect cases early, identify and follow up all contacts, and administer vaccinations as widely as possible.
  • Sustaining efforts to prevent transmission and shorten the time between onset and care.
  • Addressing the rise in cases in the remaining epicentres, notably Butembo, Katwa, Vuhovi, and Mandima.
  • All partners to identify, target, and scale up community dialogue and participation, engagement of traditional healers, and other community engagement tactics to strengthen and broaden community acceptance.
  • Prioritizing the safety of responders, while avoiding the securitization of the response.

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